Facing up to the challenges of TB reactors and housing cows

It is getting darker every morning when cattle are being herded into being milked
It is getting darker every morning when cattle are being herded into being milked

reactorsGerard Sherlock

A few weeks back the first piece of robotic equipment arrived on my farm. I purchased a Lely discovery scraper. It replaced the 16-year-old automatic scrapers which were starting to show their age.

Also they weren't installed to scrape all the cubicle passages - a job we were doing by hand scraper twice daily after milking.

An app on the phone controls the scraper now. It takes a little while to get the hang of it. The cows are adjusting to it also. We were advised not to run the scraper at night for the first week or so in order to allow cows to settle down with it.

It was purchased through a 0pc leasing scheme over three years which was appealing. Some adjustments had to be made to gates to allow the rebot under them. 'Bumpstops' had to be placed at doors and exits so that the robot knows to stop and turn.

Thankfully the weather is continuing to be very autumnal for late October. It has to be the best and driest 'back end' for many years. Cows were housed by night at the weekend gone by because grass was getting scarce and also it was getting darker every morning when I was herding them in to get milked.

Another reason for housing them was that they weren't cleaning out paddocks that well at night.

Currently the 76 cows are producing 18 litres at 4.39pc BF, 3.77pc PR, giving 1.5kg MS/cow/day, lactose 4.65pc, TBC 5000, SCC 131, Therm 100. Cows are getting 3kgs of an 18pc protein ration, 5kgs of silage and 9kgs grass.

The farm cover is at 955 and cows are going into covers of around 1500. I am strip grazing paddocks in an effort to clean out paddocks as best as possible.

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We started closing paddocks on October 10. Growth rates are still around 40 as regrowths are coming back on them quick enough. I milk recorded last weekend and that showed up some cows to be dried off.

Also from the milk recording I decided to have a pregnancy test done on the milk samples from the last 36 cows that haven't been scanned yet. I'm looking forward to the results.

All other animals are grazing happily as I still have plenty of grass. I grazed the other reseeded field last week with the weanlings. They cleaned it out very well.

TB Reactors

My annual TB herd test showed up two positive reactors which is another challenge to be faced.

It came as no big surprise as I was restricted from August because of an animal I had sold in the mart last May. TB has appeared very strong again in my area.

A lot of fellow farmers are having small numbers of reactors. I was asked about the wildlife activity in my area. I didn't really know about badger activity and to be honest I didn't know what to look for.

I was shown a map of badger setts in my area but there wasn't much activity recorded in them.

There are definitely a lot more foxes running about but nothing definite has been linked to them yet.

Once the TB is confirmed the process moves quickly to remove the reactors. I am hoping to have my two blood sampled, valuated and gone from the farm within one week from being confirmed.

Once they leave, and this is why it is so important, the clock starts ticking for the next test in 60 days.

One of the first things I completed after the TB test was a fodder budget. I was relieved to learn that I have enough silage on the farm to feed all of the animals.

The next box to be ticked is have I enough winter accommodation. Thankfully, I will get by. It may take some modest modifications. I'll not get worried yet about calf housing. I will think of that in the New Year.

Co-ops merger

One of the cornerstones of the LacPatrick and Lakelands merger is sustainability for the next generation. Also the new entity will be the second largest processor on the island of Ireland.

I am looking forward now to drawing comparisons on milk price and the other KPI's with co-ops across Europe and the world. For far too long we have compared ourselves with our neighbouring co-ops.

The top accolade was recently won by my neighbours, the McKenna family from Emyvale, in the NDC Awards. This shows that top quality milk and top quality farming practises are achievable in this part of the country.

Long may that continue.

Gerard Sherlock farms in Tydavnet, Co Monaghan

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